Tag Archives: Dennis Christopher

Fade to Black (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: A cinephile becomes homicidal.

Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher) is thoroughly engrossed in movies to the extent that he watches them all day in his bedroom and does little else. Aunt Stella (Eve Brent), whom he lives with, nags him constantly about what a loser he is as does Richie (Mickey Rourke) who he works with at his job inside a film distribution center. One day he meets Marilyn (Linda Kerridge) who looks exactly like his favorite actress Marilyn Monroe. The two agree to go out on a date to see a movie, but when Eric shows up at the theater and Marilyn is nowhere to be found he becomes unhinged. All of his pent-up rage gets released and soon he goes on a killing spree by slaughtering all of the people who have made fun of him in the past.

Writer/director Vernon Zimmerman has insisted in interviews that this wasn’t meant to be a horror film, but then what exactly was it supposed to be? I admit initially it has some intriguing elements, but like with Zimmerman’s other directorial efforts it misses the mark. Ultimately despite the offbeat touches it  devolves into a mechanical slasher flick by the second act, but in this case a really bad one, as the killings are handled in a very unimaginative way with the victims dying way too easily to the point that the segments become boring and very predictable.

Some felt that this was an odd follow-up project for Christopher to take after his critical success starring in the acclaimed Breaking Away, but I’ll give him credit for not playing it safe and taking a role outside of mainstream Hollywood. He actually plays the part pretty well, but that’s actually the problem as his skinny, geeky build makes him seem too Norman Bates-like and falls into the lonely stereotypical psycho mold too easily and thus witnessing his eventual melt down is neither surprising nor revealing. His attempted impressions of  famous characters/stars are quite poor too and makes these moments very annoying.

Having a cinephile only into classic old movies didn’t seem realistic. You’d think someone like him had seen films others hadn’t even heard of, so referencing obscure flicks and lesser known actors should’ve been added into the mix. I was also confused where he was able to get the money to pay for all the elaborate costumes, make-up, and props that he uses during the killings as at the beginning he was so broke he had to beg people for money just to fill-up his bike with gas, or go out on a date. Some may argue that when his Aunt died she willed him the money, but this is never mentioned or shown.

I did like Rourke and I felt he would’ve been more interesting in the lead role as he plays a movie fanatic as well, but also didn’t fall into the tired nerdy cliché like Christopher. Kerridge though as the love interest proves to be a dud. She certainly is easy-on-the-eyes, but seems uncomfortable playing the Marilyn caricature and her presence ultimately is rather transparent.

The production values are slick and the climactic sequence that takes place both in and on top of the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater has some pizazz, but everything else falls flat. It’s just not offbeat enough, scary enough, nor darkly humorous enough to ever catch its stride, or sustain any consistent interest.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 17, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Vernon Zimmerman

Studio: American Cinema Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

3 Women (1977)

3 women 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three women share bond.

Pinky (Sissy Spacek) is a young woman still searching for an identity who gets a job at a senior health spa. She becomes attracted to one of the trainers there named Mille (Shelley Duvall) and when Millie posts a notice that she is looking for a roommate Pinky is the first to respond. Since Millie is quite lonely she initially enjoys the attention that Pinky gives her and her still adolescent tendencies coincides with Millie’s paternal ones. Things though turn rocky and when Millie kicks Pinky out of the apartment in a rage Pinky responds by attempting to commit suicide by drowning herself. After she is saved the two begin to switch identities with Pinky becoming more aggressive and snarky while Millie becomes the passive one. Their merging identities also includes Willie (Janice Rule) a pregnant bar owner whose provocative murals hold an entrancing grip on Pinky.

This cerebral film, which was produced without any type of script and based solely on some of Robert Altman’s dreams was made during the director’s heyday when he could literally get just about anything he wanted financed by a movie studio. In fact it was while driving to catch a plane that Altman told his traveling partner to stop off at the studio so he could pitch this idea to the them, which he assured him would only take ‘a few minutes’, which it did. Even though it became a critical darling it did poorly at the box office and was in and out of the theaters in a matter of a few weeks.

Overall I’m a big fan of Altman’s work, but found this one to run longer than needed with what seemed like a lot of extraneous dialogue much of which was ad-libbed by the performers. The idea that people can shift between being passive or aggressive at any given time depending on the circumstances is an interesting one and I certainly enjoyed the murals, which were made specifically for the film, but the appropriated title should’ve been ‘2 women’ instead of 3 as Rule’s character barely says anything and is hardly seen at all.

Spacek gives the best performance and in my opinion she was the best thing about the movie. Duvall is good too and it was entertaining to see her playing more of the grounded one as usually she’s cast as the kooky types. I also thought it was cool that both Duvall’s and Spacek’s characters where from the same hometown’s in Texas as the actresses were with Duvall’s being Houston and Spacek’s was Quitman.

It is also fun seeing Dennis Christopher in an early career role appearing late in the film as a delivery man. Altman also casts real-life couple John Cromwell and Ruth Nelson as Pinky’s parents. Both Cromwell, who is also the father of actor James Cromwell, and Nelson were blacklisted in the 50’s during the McCarthy era and in fact this marked Nelson’s first film appearance in 29 years.

The dream sequence is cool, but everything else comes off like a weak version of Persona, which was far superior. The surreal ending leaves too much open to personal interpretation, which was frustrating. I also thought it was dumb that Millie reads Pinky’s diary entries out loud like she is a second grader and they really should’ve had her do it as a voice-over. It was also the first childbirth I had ever seen were the baby comes out of the womb without an umbilical cord.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 3, 1977

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video